Journalistic standards in reporting of the Te’o hoax: Q&A wi

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Re: Journalistic standards in reporting of the Te’o hoax: Q&

Postby admin » Wed Jul 22, 2015 6:37 am

Deadspin’s editor-in-chief explains editing, reporting behind Manti Te’o story
by Mallary Jean Tenore
Jan. 17, 2013

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.


Deadspin Editor-in-Chief Tommy Craggs says Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey were faced with a tough question when reporting their now famous Manti Te’o story: “What lengths do we go to to try and prove a negative?”

Image
Tommy Craggs

When asked about his reaction to The Boston Globe calling Deadspin “a website that has broken some high-profile stories but not an outlet regarded for journalistic standards,” Craggs says: “Whatever. Why should I care what a craven, slipshod outfit like the Boston Globe thinks of my ‘journalistic standards’?”

In an email Q&A, Craggs elaborates on Burke’s explanation of how Deadspin got the story that all other journalists missed.

Mallary Tenore: Who edited the story?

Tommy Craggs: Tom Scocca and I edited. We have a sort of wrestling-tag-team method of editing these longer features: We’ll put the story in a Google Doc and I’ll suplex a couple paragraphs and then Scocca will leap off the turnbuckle and piledrive a section or two, and so on.

What sort of editing went into the piece?

From the start, Tim Burke and Jack Dickey kept a running notes file in Google Docs that acted as a skeleton for both their reporting and for the story itself. They asked themselves the obvious questions, Socratically: Who is the person in the photos? Where was Lennay Kekua born? When was Lennay Kekua born? Where did Lennay Kekua live? Did Lennay Kekua attend Stanford? When was Lennay Kekua’s car accident? When did Lennay Kekua die? [Then they] set about answering them, through public records and media reports.

There was a fat pile of the latter, contradictions and all, and absolutely nothing of the former. From there, the story wrote itself. That’s all pretty obvious, and anyone who reports a story goes through at least a mental catechism like this. But putting it all on the page made the holes in the Lennay story plain to see.

How long did the reporting and editing process take?

The editing was easy — just a matter of making sure we’d asked ourselves the right questions and kicked over the right stones, and then making sure the story wouldn’t lose readers as it descended into the rabbit hole.

What sorts of questions did the editor ask to make sure that this was a thoroughly reported story?

We began reporting on Friday. By Monday, Burke had found and contacted the woman in the Lennay photos. Once we had her on the record, we knew we had enough for a story. By Tuesday, we had a draft.

The only question, really: What lengths do we go to to try and prove a negative? Do we call funeral homes in Carson (we did)? Do we call funeral homes *near* Carson (we didn’t)? Once we got an answer from Stanford on the question of Lennay’s enrollment, I was satisfied.

What’s your reaction to the reality that no other journalists thought to look into this story?

Well, I understand how this slipped through the cracks initially. If I’m a beat guy and I have 500 words to file after practice come hell or high water and the best player on the team has just told me a story about his dear, departed girlfriend, I’m not going to go spelunking through SSA death records to make sure he’s not full of shit. They won’t say that out loud in journalism classes or anything, but that’s just the nature of covering sports on a hard deadline.

I have less sympathy for the folks who crafted those painstaking “Love Story”-in-cleats feature stories about Manti and his dead girlfriend. Those were dumb, infantilizing stories to begin with, and they were executed poorly and sloppily, and if there’s any lesson to be drawn from this, it’s that this kind of simpering crap should be eliminated from the sports pages entirely.

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Re: Journalistic standards in reporting of the Te’o hoax: Q&

Postby admin » Wed Jul 22, 2015 5:18 pm

Manti Te'o
by Wikipedia
7/22/15

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.


Image

Manti Malietau Louis Teʻo (/ˈmæn.taɪ ˈtɛ.oʊ/, man-ty-te-oh;[2] born January 26, 1991)[3] is an American football linebacker for the San Diego Chargers of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Notre Dame, where he was recognized as a consensus All-American, received eight national awards, and became one of the most decorated college football players of all time. He was drafted by the Chargers in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

One of the enduring stories of Notre Dame's 2012 season was Te'o's strong play following the death of his grandmother and girlfriend (the latter was found to be a hoax), as well as his emergence as a Heisman Trophy candidate. In January 2013, the sports blog Deadspin revealed that the existence and death of his girlfriend had been faked. An acquaintance of Te'o claimed sole responsibility for orchestrating a hoax, assuming fault for luring Te'o into an online relationship with a nonexistent woman.

High school career

Te'o played for Punahou School, a private co-ed institution in Manoa, Honolulu, where he had also attended middle school. Te'o began his varsity career in 2006 with stellar play that won him selection to the second-team all-state roster as a sophomore.

As a junior in 2007, Te'o was named the state defensive player of the year by the Honolulu Advertiser and the Gatorade state player of the year. He received first-team all-state honors while totaling 90 tackles and five sacks on defense and 400 rushing yards and ten touchdowns as a running back.[4] Te'o drew considerable attention from colleges and recruiters in the process.

Te'o came into his senior year as one of the most celebrated players and recruits both on the state and national levels, landing on a number of national top ten recruiting lists before the start of the season. He received offers from over 30 college programs. During his senior year, Te'o helped lead Punahou to its first-ever state championship in football during the 2008 season. He amassed 129 tackles, including 11 sacks, forced three fumbles, tipped four passes and totaled 19 quarterback hurries. On offense at running back, Te'o rushed for 176 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and four touchdowns and had three receptions, two for touchdowns. He also had three interceptions, returning one 49 yards for a touchdown. He also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.

He received his second straight Gatorade state player of the year award for his play during the season and was named first-team all-state and the state defensive player of the year for the second straight season. Te'o was such a force that The Honolulu Advertiser considered just naming him the overall state player of the year.[5] He is regarded as one of the most highly recruited athletes, both in football and for any sport, in the history of the state of Hawaii.

In 2008, Te'o won the inaugural Butkus Award at the high school level, awarded to the best prep linebacker in the United States.[6] He was also named the 2008 Sporting News High School Athlete of the Year, becoming the first person from the state of Hawaii and the first athlete of Polynesian descent to receive the award.[7] USA Today named Te'o the national Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American. He is only the third high school player from Hawaii to be named to the USA Today All-American team, after Pat Kesi in 1990 and Jason Ching in 1995 (Ching, too, is a Punahou and Notre Dame alumnus).[8] Te'o was also named to the 2009 Parade All-American team as well.[9] On January 10, 2010, Te'o was named the Hawaii State Defensive Player of the Decade (2000–2009) by the Honolulu Advertiser.[10]

College recruitment and rankings

Te'o was consensually regarded as one of the elite prospects of the class of 2009. Major recruiting service Rivals.com listed him as a five-star recruit—the first from Hawaii since Jonathan Mapu in 2002—and ranked him second among inside linebackers only behind Vontaze Burfict.[11] Also listed as five-star recruit, Te'o was ranked as the No. 1 strongside linebacker in his class by Scout.com.

Name Home town High school / college Height Weight 40‡ Commit date
Manti Te'o
LB Honolulu, HI Punahou 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) 225 lb (102 kg) 4.6 Feb 4, 2009
Scout:5/5 stars Rivals:5/5 stars 247Sports: N/A ESPN grade: 93


On National Signing Day of 2009, Te'o committed to the University of Notre Dame.[12] He chose the Fighting Irish, then coached by Charlie Weis, over Brigham Young and Southern California. Te'o was the first USA Today Defensive Player of the Year to commit to the Irish since Kory Minor in 1995.

College career

Te'o enrolled in the University of Notre Dame, where he played for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team from 2009 to 2012.

Freshman season

Te'o entered his first college game at the start of the second defensive series early in the second quarter versus Nevada on September 5, 2009. On his third snap Te'o tackled Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick after an 11-yard gain on third and 15 for his first collegiate tackle. After playing, but not starting, his first three games, Te'o made his first collegiate start in the Irish's game versus Purdue.[13] He played in all 12 games of his freshman season and finished the season with 63 tackles, the third-most tackles ever by a Notre Dame freshman behind Bob Golic (82 in 1975) and Ross Browner (68 in 1973).[14] Te'o also recorded 5.5 tackles for loss and 1 sack.

On December 8, 2009, Te'o was named a Freshman All-American by College Football News.[15] He was also named a second-team Freshman All-American by Rivals.com.[16]

Sophomore season

Te'o moved from outside to inside linebacker in 2010 as Notre Dame switched to a 3-4 defensive scheme under defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.[17] On April 30, 2010, Te'o was named to the 2010 Lombardi Award & Nagurski Award watch lists.[14][18]

Te'o led the Fighting Irish in tackles with 133, and was second in tackles for loss with 9.5. Against Stanford on September 25, Te'o finished with 21 total tackles. This total represents a career-high for Te'o and is also the most tackles in a game by an individual for Notre Dame since 2006.[19]

Te'o was named one of 16 semifinalists for both the Butkus Award (Best Collegiate Linebacker) and the Bednarik Award for top College defensive player.[20] He was also named a Second Team All-American by CNNSI.[21]

Junior season

Te'o led the Fighting Irish in tackles for the second straight season in 2011 with 128. He also led the team in tackles for loss with 13.5 and finished second in sacks with 5.0.

Te'o was a finalist for the Butkus Award and the Lott Trophy and was selected as the 2011 FBS Independent Defensive Player of the Year.[22]

Te'o was named a second team All-American by the Associated Press, Walter Camp Football Foundation, Rivals.com, Phil Steele and CNNSI. He was also named to the Capital One Academic All-American second team.[22]

Senior season

Te’o announced on December 11, 2011 that he would return to Notre Dame for his senior season. Te'o entered his final season as one of 10 players in Notre Dame history to record over 300 career tackles and started the season eighth on the career tackles list for the Fighting Irish.[22] During the season, Te’o was the leading tackler and leader in interceptions for a 12-0 Notre Dame team which had the second-ranked scoring defense (10.33 points per game) in the country. He had 103 tackles in the regular season (52 solo, 51 assisted, 8.58 per game), including 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks (one for 13 yards of Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones.[13] Te’o also led the team, as well as all FBS linebackers in the nation, in interceptions. Te’o’s 7 interceptions during the 2012 season are the most by any FBS linebacker since 2001.[23] He ranked third in the nation at 0.58 interceptions per game, and overall only Fresno State safety Phillip Thomas has more, with 8 interceptions this season.[13] Te'o's season-high per game was 2 interceptions for 28 yards against Michigan.[24]

Image
Manti Te'o during the pregame coin toss vs. Navy on Sept. 1, 2012

In the 2012 season, Notre Dame ranked second in the nation in scoring defense (10.33 points per game) and ranked in the top 19 nationally in four other defensive categories: fifth in rushing defense (92.42 yards per game), sixth in total defense (287.25 yards per game), 12th in pass efficiency defense (105.58) and 19th in sacks (2.75 per game). Te'o's 8.58 tackles per game is three and a half more per game than the squad's next-most prolific tackler, Zeke Motta (5.09 per game).[13]

Te'o is one of the most decorated defensive players in college football history. He won the 2012 Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year Lott Trophy, as well as the Maxwell Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Butkus Award, the Lombardi Award, and the Walter Camp Award. In addition, he was named a national scholar-athlete by the National Football Foundation.[25] One of three finalists for the Heisman Trophy, Te'o eventually finished second in the voting to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

In the BCS National Championship Game, Te'o recorded 10 tackles in a 42-14 loss to a 12-1 Alabama team which won its third national championship in four years. Alabama took control from the start and led 14-0 after the first quarter and extended its lead to a 28-0 score by halftime. Te'o finished with 7 assists and 3 solo tackles.[26]

College career statistics

Te'o has 437 total tackles in his four-year career at Notre Dame. He ranks third all-time in school history behind Bob Crable (521, 1978–81) and Bob Golic (479, 1975–78). He has started the past 47 games, beginning with the fourth game of his freshman season, at Purdue. This is the longest streak of any linebacker in the country.[13] He joins Crable as the second player in Notre Dame history to record 100+ tackles in three consecutive seasons.[27]

All statistics from Notre Dame Official Athletic Site,[28][29][30][31]

Year Team Games Tackles Sacks Pass Defense Fumbles Blkd
Solo Ast Total TFL – Yds No – Yds Int – Yds BU PD Qbh Rcv – Yds FF Kick Saf
2009 Notre Dame 12 29 34 63 5.5 – 25 1.0 – 12 0 – 0 1 1 1 0 – 0 0 0 0
2010 Notre Dame 13 66 67 133 9.5 – 34 1.0 – 7 0 – 0 3 3 3 0 – 0 1 0 0
2011 Notre Dame 13 62 66 128 13.5 – 36 5.0 – 23 0 – 0 2 2 4 0 – 0 1 0 0
2012 Notre Dame 13 55 58 113 5.5 – 19 1.5 – 13 7 – 35 4 11 4 2 – 8 0 0 0
Career 51 212 225 437 34.0 – 114 8.5 – 55 7 – 35 10 17 12 2 – 8 2 0 0


Professional career

2013 NFL Draft


Forgoing the chance of a professional career in 2012, Te'o decided to return to Notre Dame after the 2011 season,[32] despite being projected a late first-round pick for the 2012 NFL Draft as early as mid-season of 2011.[33] In preseason mock drafts from May 2012, Te'o was listed as a late first-rounder for the 2013 NFL Draft as well.[34][35] By mid-season, he had moved up to the mid-first round.[36] Notre Dame has not seen one of their linebackers selected in the first round since Bob Crable in 1982.

At the conclusion of the 2012 college football season, Te'o signed with agent Tom Condon. He was training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, in preparation for the NFL Draft.[37]

Pre-draft measurables

Ht Wt Arm length Hand size 40-yd dash 10-yd split 20-yd split 20-ss 3-cone Vert Broad BP
6 ft 1¼ in 241 lb 32½ in 9½ in 4.82 s 1.64 s 2.69 s 4.27 s 7.13 s 33 in 9 ft 5 in 21 reps
All values from NFL combine, except bench press (from Notre Dame Pro Day)[38][39]


Te'o attended the NFL Combine under a lot of scrutiny by NFL teams.[40] He disappointed with a comparably slow 40-yard dash, but promised to "do a lot better" at his Notre Dame pro day.[41] After the combine, Sports Illustrated projected Te'o to fall out of the first round.[42] In March 2013, Pat Kirwan of CBSSports.com, too, projected Te'o would not be selected in the first round.[43] At Notre Dame Pro Day on March 26, Te'o ran faster according to ESPN's Todd McShay (hand-timed 4.75 and 4.71).[44] Subsequently, he was re-listed in first round mock drafts, projected No. 28 overall by ESPN's Todd McShay,[45] and No. 25 overall by Don Banks of Sports Illustrated.[46] Only days before the draft, consensus among draft pundits emerged of Te'o being selected by the Chicago Bears at 20 or the Minnesota Vikings at 23 (or 25).[47] However, Te'o was not selected by any team in the first round, partly because of his off-field issues.[48]

He was selected in the second round, 38th overall by the San Diego Chargers,[49] as the second inside linebacker in the draft behind Alec Ogletree. "It's a perfect scenario. My parents can come and watch, I can go home, it's San Diego," said Te'o on draft day.[48] He is the highest selected Notre Dame linebacker since Demetrius DuBose in 1993.

San Diego Chargers

Image
Te'o on the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).

On May 10, 2013, Te'o signed a four-year contract with the Chargers.[50] The deal includes a $2,141,768 dollar signing bonus and will be worth just over $5 million with over $3.1 million in guaranteed money.[51] He is the second linebacker of Polynesian descent to play for the Chargers after Junior Seau.

Te'o injured his right foot in the Chargers' preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks on August 8, which caused him to miss the remainder of preseason as well as the regular season opener against the Houston Texans.[52] Te'o made his NFL debut in a week 4 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. Te'o finished the game with three tackles as the Chargers won.
Te'o ended the season with 61 tackles and 4 passes defended in 13 games started.

Personal

Te'o was born in Laie, Hawaii, on January 26, 1991, of Samoan ancestry.[53] He is the son of Brian and Ottilia Te'o and has five siblings: sisters BrieAnne, Tiare, Eden and Maya and brother Manasseh.[54]

In high school, Te'o had a 3.5 grade-point average and did volunteer work with the Shriners Hospital, Head Start preschool program, Hawai'i Food Bank and Special Olympics. Te'o also became an Eagle Scout in November 2008.[55] Te'o is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).[56]

Girlfriend hoax

Te'o told many media outlets that both his grandmother and his girlfriend had died on September 11, 2012.[57] Te'o said that his girlfriend, Stanford University student Lennay Kekua, had died after a car accident and subsequently battling leukemia.[58] Te'o did not miss any football games for Notre Dame, saying that he had promised Kekua that he would play even if something had happened to her.[59] Many sports media outlets reported on these tragedies during Te'o's strong 2012 season and emergence as a Heisman Trophy candidate.[60]

After receiving an anonymous email tip in January 2013, reporters Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey of the sports blog Deadspin conducted an investigation into Kekua's identity. On January 16, they published an article alleging that Kekua did not exist and pointed to a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo as involved in the hoax of a relationship with Te'o.[60][61] Tuiasosopo has been described as a family friend or acquaintance of Te'o.[60][62] Pictures of Kekua that had been published in the media were actually of Diane O'Meara, a former high school classmate of Tuiasosopo.[63]

On the same day the Deadspin article was published, Notre Dame issued a statement that "Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia."[64][65][66] In a press conference, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick confirmed the university had hired private investigators to uncover the source of the hoax, and he clarified that Te'o's relationship with Kekua was "exclusively an online relationship".[67] This conflicted with previous accounts from Te'o and his family that the couple had first met after a football game and that she visited him in Hawaii.[68][69][70] Swarbrick said that Te'o informed Notre Dame of the hoax on December 26 after receiving a phone call on December 6 from the woman he knew as Kekua, claiming she was still alive. Te'o mentioned Kekua's death in at least four separate interviews in the days following the phone call.[70][71][72][73]

In response to the growing suspicions that he was involved in the hoax, Te'o agreed to a January 18 interview with sports journalist Jeremy Schaap in which he maintained his innocence. Te'o explained that he had lied to his father and others about meeting her in person because he thought he would be seen as "crazy" for having a serious relationship with a woman he had never met.[74] Te'o said he was angered and confused by the December 6 phone call and had continued to speak of Kekua because the situation was unclear to him.[74] He explained that Tuiasosopo represented himself as the cousin of Lennay Kekua and that the two men had communicated online over the last several years and met once in person at the 2012 Notre Dame/USC game. Te'o said that Tuiasosopo confessed to him on January 16 that he was behind the hoax.[74]

In a January 24 interview on Katie with Katie Couric, Te'o played three voicemails left by Kekua and said the voice "sounds like a girl", an assessment with which many agreed.[75][76][77] In an appearance on Dr. Phil on January 31 and February 1, Tuiasosopo confessed to the hoax; he admitted to falling in love with Te'o and using the Kekua identity as an escape. He also recreated the female voice behind a privacy screen.[78] Relatives of Tuiasosopo, however, told the New York Post that Kekua's voice belonged to Tuiasosopo's female cousin.[79] Despite the revelation that Kekua did not exist, NFL player Reagan Maui'a said that he twice met someone claiming to be Kekua, and that they had been introduced by Tuiasosopo, whom he believed to be Kekua's cousin.[80]

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Re: Journalistic standards in reporting of the Te’o hoax: Q&

Postby admin » Fri Jul 24, 2015 12:06 am

Deadspin Rides Manti Te’o Hoax Story to Renown—and Keeps Heat on ESPN
by David Freedlander
2/5/13

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The Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax put the website, once derided as a repository for juvenile jokes, on the map. Editor Tommy Craggs tells David Freedlander the site’s philosophy is not to take sports too seriously—and to keep the pressure on its “death star,” ESPN.

When Jack Dickey, a college senior at Columbia and a writer at the website Deadspin, told editor Tommy Craggs he’d heard a tip that star Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o did not in fact have a girlfriend whose death inspired the Fighting Irish’s undefeated season, Craggs wrote back in an instant message, “This would be the most amazing story. This would be fucking amazing.”

“Oh man,” he added in a transcript shared with The Daily Beast. “I have such a hard-on. I want this story. I want it I want it I want it.”

When the story broke a few days later, causing one of the biggest and most bizarre scandals in American sports—and a bit of soul-searching on the part of sports reporters who had bought into the story of a young woman who was twice near death from leukemia and the effects of a car accident only to insist that her boyfriend not attend her funeral, but play on in her honor—it was perhaps the first time people outside of sports-world obsessives had heard of, let alone read, Deadspin.

But to anyone paying attention, the 3,500-word story was further proof that a website, once derided as little more than a repository for juvenile jokes and throwing spitballs at the mainstream press, had become a permanent presence in the sports mediasphere. And that the line between major news outlet and supposedly inconsequential blogsite had dropped considerably, if it hasn’t disappeared altogether.

This may surprise, especially for a site that, as of this writing, boasts on its front page a round-up of the best GIFs from the Super Bowl the night before, a video of a shirtless Baltimore Raven jumping off a building and into a tree, and a tally of “boobs and nut shots” from the slew of Super Bowl commercials that aired Sunday night.

“The reason Deadspin exists is because there is a gap between how sports gets talked about in the official media and how fans consume and talk about it and think about. Deadspin exists in that gap,” Craggs said in an interview late last week in his SoHo office.

Deadspin is an off-shoot of Gawker Media, the pioneering gossip site. On the walls of their elegant, hardwood-floored newsrooms sit framed photos of some of the masters of the craft: Joan Didion, George Orwell, Matt Drudge.

Craggs was recruited to the site by A.J. Daulerio, a hard-charging reporter credited with turning the site from the one-man snarky musings of its founder, Will Leitch (now with New York magazine), into what GQ called “the raunchiest, funniest, and most controversial sports site on the Web” for publishing photos of Brett Favre’s penis that the former New York Jets quarterback had sent to a sideline reporter, or publishing photos of self-described recovering alcoholic Texas slugger Josh Hamilton partying it up with some young co-eds at a bar.

Craggs came up through what he called “all the shit-eating young journalism stuff”—an internship at an alt-weekly and at Harper’s Magazine, fact-checking for ESPN the Magazine, freelance writing for various publications about sports.

The ESPN magazine stint is ironic, since a good bit of Deadspin’s focus these days is taking on what Craggs called “the death star.” If Deadspin has one singular white whale, it is the guys in Bristol, Conn.

“What makes us different from ESPN is that we don’t think our readers are utter morons,” said Craggs. “What makes us different from other sports sites is that we have a very obvious death star, and we are very obviously oriented around it.”

To understand the site’s all-out focus on ESPN, it is necessary to understand the role that ESPN plays in the world of sports journalism. There is, quite simply, nothing else like it in the world of media. The network generates huge profits for teams and leagues by buying up broadcast rights, but also thinks of itself as a journalistic institution that objectively covers the people responsible for its continued existence.

Under Daulerio, the site declared all-out war on ESPN. He had received a tip that baseball analyst Steve Phillips was having an extramarital affair with an assistant and was soon to be let go by the network. A spokesman for the network denied it, and a few weeks later the whole story ended up in the New York Post. (The network disputes this account.) Daulerio decided to empty his inbox of all the salacious rumors he had been hearing from employees in Bristol, and even off-air, back-office executives were fair game for Deadspin’s “ESPNHORNDOGGERY” segments.

“What makes us different from ESPN is that we don’t think our readers are utter morons.”
“As a stunt, it was brilliant. As a work of journalism, it was problematic. It probably wasn’t the best thing we have ever done,” Craggs says of the battle. And now, he says, the site has “narrowed our focus” on ESPN.

“There have been a handful of stories about people there banging their hairdresser or whatever, but I think the best stuff [we do] on ESPN is about how their news operation is getting ground up by the entertainment side of things. A lot of the scandals there are basically from ESPN just tripping over its own dick.”

In March, the site hired John Koblin, a well-respected media reporter at WWD and The New York Observer, to cover ESPN almost exclusively. He has since written stories skewering the network for its overhyped coverage of a New York Jets backup quarterback/cultural icon, unearthed that a reporter for the website was cribbing off Wikipedia, and revealed that a columnist for the website had a side job as a scam artist.

[Full disclosure—Koblin and I briefly overlapped at The Observer.]

To hear Deadspin tell it, the problem with ESPN is not just that the network has colonized the sports landscape, but that it has changed the way people actually talk about sports. The locker-room lingo the men in the garish suits spout on Sportscenter and elsewhere is taken as native to the subject, when, in fact, unironically using phrases like “deuce,” “diaper dandy” and “aloha means goodbye,” is well, sort of ridiculous.

Deadspin exists as a counterweight to all of that, the sport news site for the urban sophisticate who doesn’t think the whole enterprise should be taken that seriously. So much of what not just ESPN, but the whole sports-media complex, does is what industry reporters call “God-ing up”—that is, turning the players and coaches into larger-than-life legends, their stories the stuff of myth and redemption. Deadspin punctures a hole in all of that.

“I would watch ESPN and it didn’t appeal to me, and I didn’t understand to whom it would appeal,” said Dickey, the college-age reporter on the Te’o story. He had been, he said, reading Deadspin since he was 15; working there now is the pinnacle of a lifelong dream. “It’s really weird the way [ESPN] talks about sports. Nobody talks about sports that way.”

In response to this story, Josh Krulewitz, a spokesman for ESPN, told The Daily Beast, “We are aggressive about researching what sports fans enjoy and we work hard to fulfill our mission to serve them. To that end, while some media commentary from various outlets may be over the top at times, if and when the criticism is thoughtful and constructive, we look to learn from it.”

A decent bit of Deadspin’s content is fairly thinly sourced—an anonymous partygoer recounting what some famous sports star said at a party he or she attended and the like—but it is that kind of stuff that Craggs says brings people to the site, and it’s the more thoughtful, “prestige stories” that get them to stay.

“They are the watchmen,” said Dave Zirin, author of Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down. “I know they do it all very tongue-in-cheek and that so much of their website is devoted to humor, and the lighter side of sports, but all of that is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down. If Deadspin didn’t exist, someone would have to invent them.”

All of which brings us back to Te’o. The story was, in many ways, the perfect Deadspin story. After it broke, ESPN told The New York Times that it too was working on a Te’o story, but hadn’t yet nailed down the particulars—the unspoken assumption being that, unlike some people, the network doesn’t run stories until nailing down all the facts. But according to Michael Butterworth, a professor of media at Bowling Green, ESPN has an incentive to slow-walk those kinds of stories since so much of the network is based on treating figures like Te’o as larger than life, their personal struggles too good to check.

And the fact that Te’o, wittingly or not, found the narrative that made him an irresistible target for sport journalists hungry for a story, makes him kind of the shining example of all that Craggs and his merry band of bloggers have set out to prove.

“There is a part of me that kind of loves Manti for this,” Craggs says. “Whether it was on a conscious or unconscious level, he found a loophole in sports media and nudged his story through it.”

“To my eye,” Craggs adds, “he is the best press critic in America.”
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